by Tom Buis (Shodan)

In aikido, we practice attacking one another and defending ourselves, and either of these roles may feel unfamiliar or even a little unsettling at times, particularly when it all happens quickly and unexpectedly.

Imagine sitting down at the breakfast table when your little brother yanks your chair from under you, and you feel yourself falling backwards toward the floor, eyes bulging. Or imagine you are looking at your phone as you step off a bottom step, except that there is one more step and you feel yourself falling forward.

This is what aikido can feel like. As Uke (attacker), you see your target and deliver some strike or grab, but just at the very last second, what was just there now no longer is, and as you are realizing this, you are upside down in the air. As Nage (defender), you may be looking at a hand or the edge of a hard wooden weapon coming down toward the top of your head, and you wait for the last possible second to move offline and do some aikido.

In aikido, we attack and defend over and over, and eventually even a very fast strike or grab isn’t so startling anymore. We become more relaxed with practice. We learn to relax into the movement and the sensations and the dynamic unfolding of techniques. Just like your brother would try to trick you in slightly different ways at breakfast just to keep it fresh, in a dojo with many students of varying skill, many different attacks and defensive techniques, the interaction between Uke and Nage is always new and fresh, and as our practice develops, we learn to relax into it. Even though it may feel a bit scary at first, after many, many unique encounters, we eventually start getting a feel for being attacked and being thrown and pinned. Really it just comes down to more practice. A relaxed approach eventually will come, it just takes practice.